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Former CEO resummoned in Oxy probe

The prosecution resummoned Monday former chief executive Shin Hyun-woo of Oxy Reckitt Benckiser who oversaw the sales of more than 4.5 million toxic humidifier sterilizers from 2001, reportedly seeking a warrant for his arrest.

In late April, Shin appeared for a 17-hour-long prosecution investigation on suspicion that he pushed ahead with the sales of toxic humidifier sterilizer even after being aware of the toxicity of PHMG in the humidifier sterilizer.

While he is believed to be chiefly responsible for decisions involving the product, the special probe team is also focused on finding whether Reckitt Benckiser Group headquarters in the U.K. played a role in deciding to manufacture and distribute the product.

Shin has denied all allegations, saying he never across a report on toxicity of the product, and that all the company sales were supervised by the RB headquarters.

Members of civic groups hold a rally condemning the manufacturers of humidifier sterilizer and a boycott of their products in Seoul on Monday.(Yonhap)
Members of civic groups hold a rally condemning the manufacturers of humidifier sterilizer and a boycott of their products in Seoul on Monday.(Yonhap)

The prosecution also summoned Oxy’s former research chief surnamed Kim and another toxic humidifier sterilizer Cefu manufacturer Butterfly Effect’s CEO surnamed Oh on Monday. Cefu is blamed for the loss of 14 lives and 27 victims with health damages.

Meanwhile, a Seoul National University professor surnamed Cho, who allegedly received money from Oxy -- formally renamed Reckitt Benckiser Korea since 2014 -- in exchange for fabricating a product safety report in 2011, denied the allegations Monday after he was arrested Saturday.

According to the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office, however, another SNU researcher who was involved in the toxicity test testified Monday that Cho ordered to delete the part where it mentions lung damage was detected in a mouse exposed to the humidifier sterilizer during an experiment.

In 2011, Oxy had requested SNU to experiment on the disputed humidifier sterilizer and write a product safety report, after the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the causality between chemicals contained in humidifier sterilizer and lung damages through an animal test.

On Sunday, the father of a deceased victim of Oxy humidifier disinfectant continued his weeklong protest in Denmark with visits to organizations in Europe.

Kim Deok-jong, whose 5-year-old son died in 2009 after battling a respiratory disease, staged a protest Sunday in front of KeTox, the manufacturer of the chemical in question, in Denmark. He is demanding the Danish government offers an “official apology over the tragedy involving a Danish company and comprehensive and thorough survey on all biocide products,” according to the Asian Citizen’s Center for Environment and Health.

Kim is set to file a damage suit against the RB headquarters in England and CEO Rakesh Kapoor.

Political parties here also continued to speak out on the burgeoning case.

On Monday, the main opposition Minjoo Party of Korea’s newly appointed whip Rep. Woo Sang-ho said there was a need to launch a task force to conduct fact-finding on the humidifier sterilizer tragedy and compensation method for victims. 

But he added that the task force should commence work after the 20th National Assembly starts later this month.

“We need to correct the wrongful companies that are indifferent to their consumers and the damages suffered by them, and we will find out whether there was any kind of ‘moral hazard’ among related institutes,” he added.

Rep. Kwon Seong-dong of the ruling Saenuri Party’s said Monday that current law can punish companies with compensation for damages, while exemplary damages will be difficult to be applied except for exceptional cases.

“Although the statistics tell that up to 530 victims suffered from using toxic humidifier sterilizers, it is more urgent to find out the mechanism between health damage of victims and use of disputed humidifier sterilizer,” Rep. Kwon said. 

“Laws cannot be altered every time an issue surfaces, but rather an in-depth review should come first,” he added. The Saenuri Party vowed to launch a hearing and possibly their own investigation into the case after holding talks with government officials Sunday.

By Kim Da-sol (ddd@heraldcorp.com)
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